Sunday, February 20, 2011

That Bob Benchley, He's Funny, Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk

Some time ago the Robert Benchley Society announced the availability on DVD of Robert Benchley, Joan Crawford, and Clark Gable in Dancing Lady.
Janie lives to dance and will dance anywhere, even stripping in a burlesque house. Tod Newton, the rich playboy, discovers her there and helps her get a job in a real Broadway musical being directed by Patch. Tod thinks he can get what he wants from Janie, Patch thinks Janie is using her charms rather than talent to get to the top, and Janie thinks Patch is the greatest. Steve, the stage manager, has the Three Stooges helping him manage all the show girls. Fred Astaire and Nelson Eddy make appearances as famous Broadway personalities.
Watch for:
  • Joan Crawford in a rare dancing role;
  • Ted Healy and His Stooges presenting their physical humor in the same film with the dry wit of Robert Benchley (it's so early a Stooges appearance that Curly is still being billed by his real name -- Jerry);
  • Film debut of Fred Astaire;
  • File debut of Nelson Eddy;
  • Early (uncredited) appearance by Eve Arden; and
  • Grand musical finale with sets and choreography that MGM will recycle later in the decade for the Emerald City scenes in The Wizard of Oz.

To which someone replied:
Thanks for the heads-up. I have seen "Dancing Lady" and I liked it very much. It certainly has one of the most eclectic casts in movie history, including, of course, Robert Benchley.

You also point out that the Three Stooges (then known as Ted Healy and His Stooges) are in the film and that Curly was billed by his real name, Jerry. Do you know if Benchley reviewed Healy and the original Stooges (Moe, Larry and Shemp) when they were on Broadway in the late '20s?

In 1927, Ted and Shemp were in "A Night in Spain" (Moe and Larry had dropped out of the act temporarily) and Shemp got good notices, including one that said, "He whom the program describes as Shemp Howard makes the most of an exceedingly comic face and a diffident manner."

In 1929, Ted, Moe, Larry and Shemp (along with a fourth Stooge, Fred Sanborn) starred in "A Night in Venice" and were billed as Ted Healy and His Racketeers. The Racketeers got good reviews from several critics, including Brooks Atkinson, who called Moe, Larry and Shemp "three of the frowziest numbskulls ever assembled" and said their antics were "rough and hardy sport, but unendingly funny." It would be interesting to read what, if anything, Benchley had to say about them.

Thanks again. Take care and keep up the good work on the site.

To which the RBS responded:
Benchley reviewed "A Night in Spain" in his Drama column in the May 26, 1927 issue of Life magazine:

"We were afraid that a show called "A Night in Spain" would entail a great deal of Spanish dancing, an we were quite right. But it also brings on several other features which make the Spanish dancing easier to bear and, on the whole, it is a good bet.

"In the first place, there is Phil Baker, with his accordion and the confident Sid Silvers in the box, making an act which is hard to beat for sheer amusment value. And then there is Ted Healy, who is very funny, and Brennan and Rogers continuing the "Margie" legend--and, unless our ears deceived us, a song in which "Rheims" is ryhmed with "dreams," probably quite correctly but all making for a jolly evening."

He also mentions the show in the September 8, 1927 issue of life:

"In the middle of the first act of "What the Doctor Ordered," our companion--a fellow of infinite jest--whispered, "Are you going to the theatre this evening?" This put the idea into our head and ten o'clock saw us over at "A Night in Spain," listening to Phil Baker and Syd Silvers. Sometimes ones's pleasantest evenings are cooked up right on the spur of the moment like that. We never dreamed, when we went to "What the Doctor Ordered," that we would get such a good laugh before the evening was over."

We don't have a citation for "A Night in Venice" in my book, so we'd say that Benchley didn't review it.

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Robert Benchley Society

For more information about the Robert Benchley Society, local chapters near you, our annual Award for Humor, and our Annual Gathering, visit The RBS Website